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Posts Tagged ‘Chicago

Purple Pig too busy chewing the fat to serve food

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After going to a networking event in Chicago, I had a craving for a quick snack that didn’t require me sitting in a crowded douchey sports bar paying for overpriced food. So after some walking around, I realized that there was a place nearby that I had been meaning to try that just might fit the bill. So I went to the Purple Pig.

I have a bit of mixed feelings about this place. On the one hand, the food was pretty good, although I think I ordered the wrong entree.The decor was pretty nice inside and it fit the theme of what they were going for, sort of a wine tasting with pork and cheese involved. So barrels everywhere, warm colors, lots of wood. And sitting at the bar let me see the detailed work of the chefs, which impressed me.

On the other hand, service was absolutely terrible.I sat there for a good 10 minutes trying to flag someone down to get water and a menu. Then I was basically ignored since I wasn’t drinking alcohol or ordering tapas on a consistent basis. And while it’s kind of standard to complain about overpriced food in Chicago, I have to do it anyway, particularly on my entree.

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The JLT. The J stands for Jowl, as in pork jowl.

So here’s the JLT: pork jowl, tomato, frisee, and a fried egg on top. Basically it was an open-faced BLT on brioche bread. It was very tasty, but not very big for $13. And truthfully, the egg was pretty unnecessary. I was enjoying the tomato and frisee combo with the jowl much more than anything the egg was adding to the dish. The frisee was dressed in some sort of vinaigrette that brought a lot of flavor with the tomato’s acidity. And the pork was pretty damn delicious, for the few strips that were on it.

I looked around at a few other people’s entrees, and what the chefs were cooking, and i definitely ordered the wrong food portion-wise. There were definitely better options out there that I didn’t know about. But fortunately, the JLT wasn’t the reason I came here. I came for the sicilian iris.

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Your filling cannot be contained in a simple brioche dough ball.

The sicilian iris is a brioche beignet-type dessert filled with ricotta cheese and chocolate chips. This dessert was featured on Chicago’s Best too. It was the perfect blend of sweet and filling, and god was it rich. Warm, tasty and sweet, it was almost worth the $7. Decent size as well. Course it was sent to the people next to me instead of me, which is part of the crap service complaint I had.

While I might like to try some of the other dishes, I don’t think this place is for me and I probably won’t go again of my own suggestion. But that sicilian iris is definitely worth the try. Maybe if the service was a bit better I would be interested in giving it another go.

Written by mlogli

May 23, 2014 at 3:59 am

Don’t do it Doug!

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This was quite possibly the worst news one could have received this week. I usually criticize media coverage for not sticking/focusing on more important issues, but this is pretty damn important.

Doug Sohn is closing down Hot Doug’s, effective October 3, 2014.

This is one of my favorite Chicago places, which became more evident when I had seven or eight people tell me on Tuesdays that the place was closing.

Doug, the savant of encased meats, sat behind the counter each day (Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., or whenever he felt like it really, since he took a lot of days off) and greeted his customers with charm, with, and a bit of ribbing. No one else does what he does: giving people crazy game meat sausages and duck fat fries in an eclectic setting. The line that often stretched around the corner and into the nearby residential area was hardly a hassle to traverse. The reward at the end was worth it.

Aside from seeing WGN news media there in a more casual setting (looking at you Robert Jordan Jr.), my favorite memory of Hot Doug’s is this. I usually order three dogs and fries when I go: a corn dog, a normal dog, and a game meat dog. Their corn dogs are amazing, and I’m surprised more people don’t get them. Anyway, Doug’s joint is a cash-only restaurant. And while I had the $20 necessary to pay, I only had it in singles. As I keep handing Doug single after single, he asks if I just came from the Admiral and got a good laugh out of me and my friends.

That was also the day I had my favorite sausage at Hot Doug’s: the rattlesnake sausage. Tender, juicy, and oh so delicious, the toppings gave it an extra kick.

By the way, in order of favorite sausages:

  1. Rattlesnake sausage
  2. BLT Dog sausage
  3. Mountain Man (five meats in one!)
  4. Deer sausage
  5. Chicken sausage
  6. Duck sausage w/foie gras (delicious but just too much for me)
  7. All other hot dog joints in existence because nothing else ever has or ever will come close.

I wish Doug the best and understand his reasoning. He had a rough start in Chicago early on, being one of the only restaurants to serve foie gras during the Chicago ban on the ingredient, and he was part of the fight to bring it back. Obviously he won that fight. What isn’t so obvious is how many times I will have to visit Hot Doug’s before it closes.

Goodnight sweet prince of encased meats. Parting with you will be nothing but scrumptious sorrow.

Written by mlogli

May 9, 2014 at 2:45 am

Curious about those chemicals in your cupcakes?

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This past week, I was at a food conference. It was tasty and delicious, but it was much more than that. It was about food science, a very controversial topic around the world. Even if you’ve never heard the term before, you encounter some product of food science every day. The obvious examples: potato chips, processed foods, cake mixes, the list goes on. The less obvious examples: farmed foods such as fruits and veggies are “processed” in the sense that they can sometimes be sprayed with pesticides, colored, or packaged in such a way to preserve shelf life.

A professor at a short course I took for the conference told me that, unless you pick the fruit/veggie from your own backyard, unless you hunt and skin the meat you desire, all of your food is processed.

Is that sad/horrifying? That depends. This conference was very educational on many fronts. While I now understand the challenges food scientists face, I still feel they can have a bit of a “mad scientist” quality to them. Food science (in America at least) barely crosses over the line of too much meddling.

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Typical food scientist, right?

Food scientists are people that can mix alcohols and sugars to create flavors that don’t exist in nature (blue raspberry anyone?). They can genetically engineer a wheat crop to be resistant to pesticides that, when crushed, produces oil that is low in saturated fats with minimal trans fats. They can combine whey protein and finely-milled flax seed into an egg substitute (this product was in fact an innovation award winner). They can ferment algae in growing tanks, grind it into finely-milled powder, combine it with proteins and fibers, and use it to partially or fully replace eggs and butter in baking and cooking applications, significantly reducing fat, cholesterol, and calorie levels. I believe this kind of processing, using organic chemistry, is beneficial and can even boost the positive qualities of foods, if not remove other qualities completely. These things are chemicals insomuch as blood is a chemical. Adding sugars and salts, though terrible for your health, are not “chemically processed” for the most part.

(For this record, since some of this does involve genetically modified foods, I feel I would tentatively support GMO. Targeting a single gene to make a crop pesticide resistant wouldn’t have an effect on the human body when consumed. On the ecosystem? That’s another issue, hence my apprehension…)

But there are other types of processing as well. The kind that turns metals,  non-table salts, and sulfites into food. I learned how Burger King makes their onion rings during my trip. To summarize the process, BK onion rings are big collections of tiny bits of onion smushed together with starches and sugars.  Then an alginate salt (sodium alginate in this case) is added to turn this into a goopy gel. The gel is thrown into calcium chloride to make it a ring shape paste thing. Then they batter and deep fry that ring.

Why go through this lengthy process where each additional chemical, including the calcium chloride at the end, would add calories, fat, salt, and other bad things? Why do that for any product? The reason: us, the consumers.

According to their polls and focus groups (which we participate in) consumers want consistency, flavor, texture, all the things that tend to immediately deteriorate shortly after processing. Hence preservatives (the non-natural ones) and packaging and food science. Real onion rings fall apart, and can be hard to eat while driving. Solution: algae chloride rings. If an orange has a bruise in the supermarket, or if an onion has a brown spot, it is probably still safe to eat. But would you? Would you use that in a recipe to give to other people? Would the thought of that scare you? It scares most people, especially in America, and food scientists know this. Hence the effort spent making sure every banana, every cracker, and every chocolate tastes and looks and feels exactly the same.

In Europe that’s not the case (so I’m told by those who live there). Trips to stores have to happen several times a week, since food goes bad so quickly over there, even if refrigerated. That kind of lifestyle is more active and supported than the current American lifestyle. I know I only go to the grocery store for major restock of the fridge once a month, with supplementary trips in between for bread or milk.

So this is as much our fault as it is theirs. We got exactly what we wanted: TV dinners and little-effort frozen foods and snacks so we can keep working and keep making money. But I don’t believe that is a route to stay on. Even as we (the consumers) ask for more healthy and “natural foods” (For the record, there is no official government definition for what is considered “Natural” in foods. If you see it on a label, it means whatever the company wants you to think it means), our foods remain high in calories and our lifestyles remain inert. The production of these better foods also increases the energy and water we must use to attain them. In the long run, lack of water may be the bigger issue here, and water conservation should be looked at too.

A food scientist may claim that processed foods are safer to eat. Examples of cross-contamination in foods (e.coli in spinach and salmonella in peanut butter anyone?) and the amount of bad stuff in foods prove otherwise. They sure do last longer than non-processed foods though. Ever keep a loaf of Wonder bread in the fridge for two months? Nothing  happens to it. That’s all the sugar put into the bread to preserve it. That fruit that looks perfect after two weeks? Possibly irradiated, possibly sprayed with a coating (petroleum-based or oil-based) that prevents oxidation.

There are many problems, many flavors, many healthy foods that food scientists can create. But they cannot make us grab that box of Chips Ahoy off the shelf. They are, like many companies, victims to the will of the populous. This is becoming more apparent lately, with the backlash against GMO (which, by the way, is in pretty much everything we eat as of 20+ years ago) and the desire for more organic foods. But then again, until somewhat recently, the (American) public didn’t know that, because it didn’t need or care to know that.

There’s a place for food science, as there is room on the shelf for both homemade bakery crackers and Wheat Thins. The issue becomes the belief that food science will help feed everyone in the world and solve every possible issue. But when a bakery has leftover food from the night’s work, they have to throw it away instead of use it to “feed the world” or even the bum on the street corner. There’s plenty of food in the world to feed everyone. The problem is economics, not supply. The problem is lack of information, or conflicting information, about what is in a food, how much food there is, what the label really means. The problem is the lifestyle of the consumer. The problem is human overconfidence and hubris. The problem, believe it or not, isn’t necessarily food science. The problem is how far we go with it.

Written by mlogli

July 18, 2013 at 6:14 pm

How quickly the quality drops

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Chicago Sun-Times cover on June 26.

Nice isn’t it? This is what a lack of photographers will get you: a blurry iPhone picture and a cover of red.

It’s amazing how quickly the quality of the Sun-Times’ visual journalism has fallen since laying off their photojournalism department a few weeks ago. The Tumblr SunTimes/DarkTimes has explored the descent into awful by comparing Sun-Times and Chicago Tribune covers back to back. They have also taken a look at a few webpage comparisons. It is absolutely embarrassing.

A friend of mine currently working in England told me recently that the state of media across the pond is in much better shape. While culture is a part of the reason, the fact is that many papers in England consistently produce high-quality journalism for an audience that is willing to pay for it. And while we can blame the advent of technology all we want, the fact remains that sometimes stupid people will make horrible decisions, sacrificing quality for cash flow.

Because media is treated as a for-profit business, it is run as such, which is why we see things like this happen. Deep down, I know the Sun-Times will realize their mistake. The problem is when they call back all those photographers they lost and try to rehire them, they will still try to hire them as freelancers first. If that happens, I hope those photographers know that they are much, much better than that, that those photographers don’t take those jobs, that those photographers don’t pull the Sun-Times out of the hole they dug for themselves.

There are a few lessons to be learned here about the media and its relationship to money. We deserve better.

Written by mlogli

June 30, 2013 at 12:54 am

Another bad day for journalism

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As I’m sure my Chicagoan readers are aware, the Chicago Sun-Times just did something very stupid today. They got the entire photography staff, including those from the suburbs, and laid off every single one. Counting some of the part-time staff and freelancers that may or may not have been affected, anywhere from 20-30 people just lost their jobs today.

The writers’ union (and yes, believe it or not there is one) has already begun to file a lawsuit against the media company. Even if it succeeds, I don’t know why one would want to work at a company that just laid off some of its greatest talents. The Sun-Times was always known for its sports coverage, including beautiful photography. Now a line of freelancers will take their place, and reporters will be expected to take their own photos with cell phone cameras, as well as relying on the video producers.

Protip: Video is not the same as photo.

In the short-term, this move saves a lot of money. Sun-Times probably cut a cool $1 million of expenditures out of their budget, including insurance costs since they won’t have to cover that for freelancers. Long-term…hoo boy.

This should be obvious to most people, but I’ll bring it up anyway: cell phone pictures cannot come even close to the quality created by an actual camera. This will be noticeable from the first issue after this layoff. And actually taking these photos, and using the right cameras, does take a specially trained person with an artistic eye, a knowledge of angles and lighting, and perhaps most importantly, a sense of when the action is going to happen. People who aren’t trained in this simply cannot do this job correctly, and they cannot do the job with tools ill-suited to the task at hand. Taking a high-quality journalistic photo, like this, or this or even this) is not something a person with a Nikon handheld can do.

I hope this does not become a trend for other newspapers. It is merely another step down as print products continue to deteriorate in quality. So long as consumers demand a “free news” product, this trend will continue to the point where news media will be bought out by entrepreneurs and companies and turned into propaganda…wait…

Or it could deteriorate to the point where a major news event will be simply missed because of understaffing and poorly-educated hires. I shudder to think of how, say, the Boston Marathon bombing would have been covered if a bunch of idiots were stuck trying to articulate the horror of that day, misleading the public at every turn with false leads and misinformation. You either get the New York Post, CNN, or Reddit.

At some point, I hope people are fed up enough to realize that good journalism requires some sort of cash flow behind it. I would rather a good newspaper be funded by the people than by Rupert Murdoch or the Koch family.

Written by mlogli

May 31, 2013 at 3:21 am

Wrigley Field: should it stay or should it go?

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The Chicago Cubs have won their first game of the season, a bright point in a season with little to no expectations whatsoever. The real source of discussion so far has been what to do with Wrigley Field.

Owner Tom Ricketts is trying to start a $300 million renovation, but he has run into many problems. Alderman Tim Tunney, who governs the ward Wrigleyville resides in, won’t agree to a deal that doesn’t address the concerns of his citizens/gives him any bribe money. These concerns include worries about increased traffic for night games, preventing Wrigley visitors from peeing on everything (seriously) and not giving Alderman Tim Tunney any money. Rooftop owners are also upset because of Ricketts’ idea to put a 6,000 sq. ft. screen in the outfield for ad revenue. They believe this will block their views and hurt their property values. They also want to resign their ridiculously unfair agreement that allows them to keep all profits for themselves and give nothing back to Wrigley Field.

I should mention everyone feels entitled to this money, especially the city of Chicago, who has classified Wrigley Field as a historic landmark and won’t allow Ricketts to change much of anything unless THEY get some more money too.

Basically, everyone should get money except Wrigley Field and the people who own it. I don’t blame people from trying to cash in on a franchise that continues to make big money win or lose, but to prevent the growth of that same franchise as a result is ridiculous. It limits the potential money it COULD make if it was actually a good team, which would mean more money for all.

Also, it’s pretty damn greedy.

Fortunately, Ricketts has an out, should he choose to accept it. Rosemont mayor Brad Stevens has offered Ricketts 25 acres of land to rebuild a Wrigley replica and whatever else he needs. This could be used as a trump card (as George Steinbrenner did when he wanted a new Yankee Stadium). Would it be a good idea? Probably not. Not only would Wrigleyville, a major reason why the area is so popular in the first place, cease to exist, but the area around Rosemont won’t be able to replace that (no matter how cool Rosemont At the Park and the outlet mall may be). The lack of charm will no doubt hurt profits for Ricketts as well. Moving Wrigley Field out of Wrigleyville is a lose-lose for just about everyone involved, except Rosemont and Mayor Brad Stevens.

A deal will have to be made eventually. Rahm Emanuel may have to make it happen in a threatening manner, but it will happen. Someone just needs to cut through all the BS and red tape to make it so.

Written by mlogli

April 4, 2013 at 1:34 am

First beer of the day on St. Patrick’s Day

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St. Patrick’s Day weekend was my first actually in the Chicago Loop to witness the river dyeing. I question the effect on the environment, but man does it look pretty.

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Plus this guy.

As fun as watching the river dyeing was, and as fun as it later was to watch drunk people and visit Pete Wentz’s bar (which made me feel like a tool), something else extraordinary happened as well.

I got the first beer off the tap at the new bar, Howells and Hood (that day; it opened this week though). Based on the architecture of famous architects John Howells and Ray Hood, who constructed the Tribune Tower, this place is famous for having 114 beers on tap. That is not a misprint.

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This is what 114 beers on tap looks like. I wish I could say I took this photo, but I did not.

And even though it was St. Patrick’s Day (weekend) and even though it was 9 a.m. or so, no one was in this place yet. So my friends and I strolled on in and sat at the bar. We were handed leather-bound menus with all the beer possibilities inside and we marveled at the selection. Since I chose first, I got the first beer. And it was a great beer: Dragon’s Milk Bourbon Barrel Stout from New Holland Brewing Company.

I’ve wanted to try it for a while but never got around to it because of its price. But if you’re going to overpay for a beer, you might as well do it on St. Patrick’s Day (weekend) and do it in a fancy new place. $9 was about average for a beer there anyway, sadly, but since Blue Moon and Guinness was $7, I think I got a good deal.

And it was delicious. I can honestly say that I’ve never tasted a beer quite like it. I don’t even think I can truly describe the flavors, aside from the extremely smooth malty flavor and what I can only assume was the flavor of the bourbon barrel. I feel like I need to have it again to truly appreciate it.

And when I save up enough money to try to eat the food (french onion soup is apparently $10. Use that as a placemarker) I will definitely come back to try that too.